Are old-school Sonic and Mario really that good?

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

The original 1991 Sonic game was a blistering statement of intent for Sega’s cooler, edgier approach to games in the face of Nintendo’s family-friendly market dominance. Simultaneously launching a charismatic star and a brand new adrenaline-soaked approach to platforming, it was a genuine landmark for gaming.

Above: The look like they mean business, and they do

When Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came along in 1992, the gaming world exploded, as did Sega’s fortunes. Bigger, cooler, flashier and wider in scope, it rocketed Sega’s market share to 50% within six months thanks to its smart honing of everything that made the first game great. Later sequels might have diluted the format with new characters and gameplay elements, but Sonic 2 is as pure a slice of 2D Sonic goodness as aficionados could want.

Better by comparison

Going back to review Sonic 2 today is an interesting experience, given the way the awful new 3D games have amplified the deification of the original trilogy. There are certain images and emotions that flash immediately into the mind when thinking of this period in the hedgehog’s history.


Above: Sega imagery doesn't get more iconic - Fact

Blasting around loop-the-loops with widened, sweaty eyeballs. Soaring majestically into the sky as several miles of scenery hurtles past underfoot. The thrill of hearing the rapidly chained chime of rings as Sonic burns along a perfect racing line. That half-pipe bonus level.  All of those things are still present and correct, and they still feel amazing now. But unfortunately Sonic 2 contains quite a few things that you don’t remember quite as clearly… But first, the great stuff. 

At its best, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the pinnacle of the “more of the same, but better” school of sequel design. Sonic’s simple but effective move-set of blast-processed acceleration and Hulk-rivalling jumping ability are wisely untinkered with, as is the general model of balancing his lightning-fast environmental domination alongside more careful platforming and exploration.


Pacey but paced

That latter element is often glossed over when many players discuss Sonic, but it’s fundamentally vital to the game. As invigorating and empowering as the fast stuff is, Sonic 2 would be a very dull game indeed if it were the mere case of “Hold right FTW” many mistake it for. The real fun of 2D Sonic games is in the way in which those ten-second speed blitzes act as a cathartic reward after a careful platforming section or tricky sequence of hazard evasion. It’s an approach to pacing that’s both viscerally satisfying and clever in the way that its constant high/low octane alternation pulls the player through the game.


Above: The eyeball blazing Technicolor rollercoaster of Chemical Plant Zone typifies the new and improved Sonic 2

Sonic 2 does this even better than its predecessor did, thanks to its immensely larger levels and more streamlined exploration and secret hunting. The increased vertical spread of its stage layouts provides several completely different routes through each, as well as plenty of opportunity to switch paths on the fly with some deft navigation. So much so in fact, that most stages can essentially be played several times over for a completely different experience on each run through.


Above: As does gratuitous corkscrewing

This proliferation of secret items is also more accessible than the first game’s hidden areas were, as level layout and signposting are more friendly and well thought out. Clues to secret areas, at least in the first half of the game, are usually clear and alluring enough to prompt an excitable back-peddling treasure hunt, even in the midst of a storming supersonic speed run. Sonic 2 definitely carries over the first game’s problem of trial and error exploration (wherein later secrets could be so obtusely hidden that there’s no way you’d think of looking where they are unless you knew they were there already), but the issue is certainly reduced and the process noticeably slicker and more enjoyable.

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • Connors116 - January 9, 2010 8:34 p.m.

    Sonic The Hedgehog 2 was sort of a let-down for some, as no characters from the comic book (Which is still running today as the longest game-based comic book ever) never got into it. Hell, Sonic 3 never even lived up to it. If they actually had them, it would be too story based, but all we needed was one. And it was canceled. No one saw that coming coming. But Super Mario World still holds up to this day, along with the Sonic The Hedgehog Games. And yes, I know how to get to Top Secret Area. My Cousin taught me on his SNES.
  • SausageLozenge - December 14, 2009 11:45 a.m.

    Nail on the head.
  • B3rt - December 13, 2009 10:58 p.m.

    The Sonic 2 score dosent really line up with one of gamesradar previous articles where they reviewed all the old 2d sonics. Im pretty sure Sonic 2 got a 9 in that article.
  • Ravenbom - December 11, 2009 8:49 p.m.

    I'd like to see more of these retro reviews. Yeah, I find Sonic 2 to be overrated. I just played through Mario 3, Super Mario World and the first 3 Sonic games recently, and I still can't understand what was supposed to be so great about Sonic 2. That being said, my last play through of Super Mario World was sublime. My only complaint is how easy you can make the game with Blue Yoshi and a Cape (and Top Secret Area). Making the game easy is hardly a complaint, because the onus is on the player to make the game easier by seeking out Blue yoshi and a cape.
  • StoveToTheFace - December 8, 2009 10:40 a.m.

    I agree that mario should be a 10, one of the best games EVER! BUT come on Sonic isnt a 7 it should be atleast a 8.5, i would give it a 9. The boss battles arnt the best but Marios arnt anything that great either so if you arnt gonna knock Mario for it you cant knock Sonic for it, dosent sound like your being fair to deff more of a Mario fan then Sonic but i think your not giving Sonic a fair score.
  • Tomsta666 - December 7, 2009 2:01 p.m.

    Im old enough to have been there when these buggers first came out. Let me tell you, I still have as much fun with them now as I did when I was a nipper. Super Mario World for me, is the ultimate 2D platformer. It has everything that you could possibly wish for from something of the genre. It's probably the game that i've beat the most. Seriously, i've lost count of how many times i've done it. Way back when on the SNES, done it shitloads on GBA too. Aswell as Virtual Console and dodgy emulators! I Always keep coming back to it. Sonic 2 still holds up too. I'll agree with you that isn't as good as SMW it's still a damn good game, and my personal favourite of the oldskool Sonic Games.
  • rxb - December 7, 2009 1:40 p.m.

    Its impossible for me not to be bias reading this as I love Super Mario world more than some members of my own family. I think it could be judged by modern standards and still get a 10. A contender for best made in my book. I remember Sonic Twosday as well, a 10 year old me was very excited.
  • TheWebSwinger - December 7, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    How much, exactly did Nintendo-circa-1990 pay you to write this? /s.
  • HeavyTank - December 6, 2009 10:56 p.m.

    Yeah, these two particular old games are still very good today, you should review other classic games as well... Mario games are stil (pretty) good, but today's Sonic games cannot be compared in ANY way to the older games...
  • RoxasXXion - December 6, 2009 5:56 p.m.

    sigh I remeber when I used to sit for hours on end playing sonic and quakshot on the sega mainly because you couldn't save but still
  • AuthorityFigure - December 6, 2009 9:46 a.m.

    Sonic3 is even worse, and I made a review that points out the very same problems you've noted. It is here:,109381/
  • HeroicBilby - December 6, 2009 4:07 a.m.

    Personally I never understood why Sonic 2 was considered the "greatest". Sonic 3 & Knuckles(As they were always meant to be played) is the only real gemstone of 2D Sonic in my heart, just like Super Mario World is a ultimate example of 2D Mario to me.. ^^ S3&K also DEFINITELY did the bosses right. I'm a bit perplexed why they didn't pick the real best to compare, even if they only used one of the two they're still better done than S2( Except for that HORRID Carnival Night Zone puzzle! AARRRGGH! Definitely a 3/10 game just for that alone! ;D )
  • rampage198 - December 6, 2009 12:25 a.m.

    Really good article. While there have been lots of Mario Vs. Sonic peices written over the years this is one of the best.
  • TractorBoy21 - December 5, 2009 10:14 p.m.

    Claiming that the article is "biased" is a very ignorant thing to say, as all arguments are biased to some extent, fact. However, I would say that this was one of the best constructed articles I have read for a vey long time and would really enjoy this becoming a reular feature of sorts. I admit that I am a Sonic fanboy, however, I think that all the comments made by David were completely valid, especially when you look at the game as an example of a specific genre, or an era etc. The reason that we gain pleasure from different things, especially within games, because they are so imersing, is that we share personal experiences with the games, which is why I do not have an issue with the boss levels on Sonic, and would argue that the Mario boss levels are of the same school of thought. However, I acknowledge that the Sonic boss levels are "tacky" because that is what it is in the game, at least at this stage in the game, that appeals to me, because in my opinion, it seems intentional, and is like nothing else, so enjoyable, and yt epic at the same time. That is what makes a game for me, that it can be loved on so many different levels, just like both the games mentioned in the article. Again, loved the article, hope to see it re-occur.
  • Scotch - December 5, 2009 9:18 p.m.

    the retro reviews are a great idea! and i love how the guy with a sonic avatar is complaining about the sonic review! i guess that is one bad thing, if GR continues to do this fan boys can get mad AGAIN XD
  • B3rt - December 5, 2009 7:51 p.m.

    Sonic 2 was a great game but why doesn't any game site ever mention the combination of sonic 3 and knuckles? I found that game to be much more refined and more varied than sonic 2 and the length of the two games combined really improved the experience.
  • GameManiac - December 5, 2009 5:47 p.m.

    My gaming origin was 10 years ago, when I bought a PS1 and GameBoy Color. I have found a way to play these games eventually (such as when they came out for the GBA). And just from that, my money's on SMW.
  • SuperStingray - December 5, 2009 4:10 p.m.

    I honestly don't know why people see Sonic 2 as the best of the original games. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but I prefer S3&K by far. This is an interesting article, I will say, to look back on these games retrospectively and see how they fair by today's standards.
  • wrapdump - December 5, 2009 1:07 p.m.

    For my money this is backwards. Back when I first got into videogames around 1992, Mario still looked like utter crap. That's not really important, but it just wasn't compulsive enough, it wasn't very fun or engaging at all. I had absolutely no desre to keep playing to see what level was next. Were they cleverly designed? Absolutely, the amount of depth to almost every level, and the amount of thought that had gone into the construction was clearly huge, even to an 8 year old. But it was still crap. Sonic was a revelation. The boss fights were never important, they were an entertaining victory goal to each level, and if you really struggled with coping with some of the enemies, then you still need practice, 17 years on.
  • Xobi - December 5, 2009 10:36 a.m.

    Sonic 2 ..... 10